The Cheshire Police Department has been ahead of the curve when it comes to body cameras.
Even before they were tapped to become a requirement as part of the new police accountability bill passed last year and scheduled to go into effect this summer, the local police were beginning to utilize the technology. Now that they will be mandatory for all departments across the state, Cheshire won’t have to do anything in order to comply.
Body cameras are a positive for the officer and the citizen. For both parties, it provides video and often audio proof of what happened during an interaction, so no side of a possible situation can fabricate what occurred. Even in circumstances where the dispute occurs over an honest disagreement over what actually transpired, the body camera footage, along with video secured from an in-car camera, will almost always present a clear picture of the event.
However, like with all technology, it is changing, and it appears, as part of the Cheshire Police Department’s budget request for the coming fiscal year, local authorities are trying to stay as up-to-date as possible on whatever upgrades may be coming down the pike.
As part of the police budget request, Chief Neil Dryfe is requesting a new contract with a company, Axon, to provide both body and in-car cameras to the department over the next five years, hardware and software included. The ask is expensive … or at least more expensive than if the department were to enter into an agreement with the company from which it bought its current cameras. However, Dryfe, during a recent review of his request by the Town Council, laid out a rather convincing case as to why the extra cost is worth it.
Simply put, a contract with Axon would, according to the Chief, provide more of a guarantee that Cheshire officers will remain current when it comes to the technology driving the body and in-car cameras. The promise of equipment upgrades would ensure, Dryfe states, that the Town is never facing an issue where the technology is surpassing their capabilities.
Considering that the cameras are now mandatory and how much they are already relied upon as evidence, it seems only prudent that the community make sure its officers are not lagging behind when it comes to hardware or software. Dryfe, during the Council conversation, laid out a rather ominous scenario where footage of a disputed incident could be unavailable because the cameras were not working properly. Such a situation would invite not only questions of whether the Town was in violation of the new law, but also encourage conspiracy theories as to whether the PD was hiding anything.
If the equipment is up to date, capable of tapping into the latest technology, then such situations could be avoided. However, if the Town is consistently battling performance issues related to their cameras, then the likelihood of something occurring without footage being recorded only rises. Cheshire should do everything to avoid such a circumstance.
As with all requests, Cheshire officials should scrutinize what it is Dryfe is asking. As was mentioned during the meeting, further savings could possibly be seen if the Town were to enter into some sort of partnership with another municipality or entity using the Axon equipment. It’s also worth looking at whether every possible “bell and whistle” is necessary when it comes to the cameras’ capabilities, so as to see if a more cost-effective contract could be negotiated.
However, even if the best the Town can do is enter into the contract Dryfe mentioned during the latest Council meeting, it is likely worth it. There are areas in which the community can and should look to keep costs low. There are places in the budget that can be trimmed. But when it comes to public safety and meeting the demands of a new law, the investment is needed.